Our Grant From The National Endowment for the Humanities

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Did you hear that our college has earned a creative and generous grant from the National Endowment For the Humanities?

The grant is creative because it was sought by professors in allied health care professions – Nursing, Vision Care, Dental Hygiene and  Biology.  They aimed to join forces with faculty in the Humanities (Art History, Theater History, Linguistics, Anthropology and Legal Studies) to collaborate in a year-long project where they would examine ways to enhance  students’ understanding of cultural differences amongst patients and clients.

We were overjoyed when the NEH generously agreed to  fund our  project entitled “Comparative Perspectives on Health, Illness, and Healing.”  Every other week we professors (and our Dean of the School of Professional Studies) meet to conduct seminars and study Eastern and Western approaches to health, disease, healing and death. Our goal is to enable us and thus, you, our students, to become more thoughtful, culturally competent, and ethically aware practitioners.

In February, we began with a  keynote address by the world renown physician, Dr.  Rita Charon.  She  helped to create the field of Narrative Medicine and man, she was cool!  Listen to her TED talk here.

We also were treated to a seminar led by the poets, Jim Stubenrauch and Joy Jacobson, on healing through reflective writing.  They had us writing about rather personal matters and through that we gained an understanding of the intense learning that can emerge from  sharing stories in supportive situations.

In addition to reading and discussing Dr, Charon’s masterpiece, “Narrative Medicine , Honoring the Stories of Illness”, we read and discussed  the fantastic book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Ann Fadiman.

spirit

Image from Amazon. Click to examine

Please read this book about the Hmong people and their worldview.  I promise you will love it.

 Every professor involved in the grant is responsible for a particular topic.  My responsibilities began last week on the topic of Death Across Cultures.  We began by studying the history and law on the Right to Die by reading the world famous Quinlan case and discussing New York’s  In re O’Connor.   I was proud to show the other professors how we brief cases.  Briefing is a collorary to Dr. Charon’s system  of “Close Reading” and  has added to our toolkit of methods for analyzing texts.  We also reviewed a sample New York Living Will and Health Care Proxy.

Based on  our theme of Death Across Cultures, some of the NEH project members toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art  to view various objects created to dispose of, commemorate, mourn,  and connect with the dead.  The Friday evening tour was an abbreviated version of our semi-annual extra credit tour of the museum for LAW 2301.  Here are some of the objects we examined (note that all images are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website – click on any image to visit the museum page devoted to the object and learn more about it):

We began with gravegoods from the bronze age in the Greek islands.

Cycladic Harp Player (2800-2700 BEC)

Cycladic Harp Player (2800-2700 BCE)

We viewed a somewhat later terracotta krater that was used as a grave marker.  Check out the decedent lying horizontally and the mourners tearing their hair on either side of him.

Terracotta grave marker (750-735 BCE)

Terracotta grave marker (750-735 BCE)

We also admired the “Metropolitan Kouros” created as a grave marker of a young aristocrat  in Attica (Athens)

kouros

590-580 BCE

From Greece we visited Rome to view the “Badminton Sarcophagus”

Badminton sarcophagus

Rome 260-270 AD

And this wonderful sarcophagus lid where the wife wasn’t quite dead yet so only her husband’s face was carved

unfinished wife

220 AD

After Rome we traveled to Africa to view Mangaaka and some gorgeous Fang reliquary figures.

fang reliquary 1

19th – early 20th century
Gabon/Equatorial Guinea

fang3

19th-early 20th century

We also admired the altar objects created on the deaths of the kings of Benin.

tusk

Nigeria, Court of Benin
18th century

From Africa we journeyed to Papua New Guinea to admire the mbis poles and other objects carved by the Asmat people (mostly collected by the unfortunate intestate decedent, Michael Rockefeller).

mbis

Indonesia ca. 1960

After Oceania, we visited pre-Columbian South America to view the gold funerary masks of the Sican people.

sican mask

9th-11th century Peru

We then time-traveled to 20th century America to consider Marsden Hartley’s “Portrait of a German Officer”, painted to honor Hartley’s lover who was killed in WWI.

Portrait of a German Officer

1914

Thereafter we traveled back in time to medieval Europe to marvel at two wonderful reliquaries.

st valentine

Reliquary arm of St. Valentine
14th century Switzerland

mary magdalen

Reliquary of Mary Magdalen (tooth)
14th/15th century Italy

Read about other relics (including John Lennon’s tooth ) here.  

Thereafter we went back in time again to ancient Egypt to marvel at the Temple of Dendur

temple of dendur

Egypt, ca 15 BCE

And one of my personal favorites,

queen's lips

Fragment of a Queen’s Face, Egypt
ca 1353-1336 BC,

As you might imagine, we didn’t  agree on the beauty of every object, but I think that  was a good lesson in itself.

For our final reading of the semester is Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illych”, a brilliant work about the death of a judge who has led a meaningless life.

ivan

Image from Amazon. Click to examine.

Have you guessed that your assignment “International Inheritance Laws”  derives directly from my participation in the NEH grant?  It does!

  Each of you is researching the inheritance laws of different nations.  The countries you are studying represent the homelands of my former students.  Some students still have relatives in their homelands and some stand to inherit property from those countries.  We are researching and writing about the inheritance laws of those countries  and comparing New York law to the laws of those nations (to “assess your written communication and critical thinking skills”).  We are also looking at the ways the people of those nations dispose of, commemorate, mourn,  and connect with the dead through their art.

I cannot wait to hear your class presentations and see the art objects you have located in the museums of your countries.  We can thank the NEH for the inspiration!

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